KET Legislative Coverage

Sex and Violence: Changing Attitudes and Speaking Up

by John Gregory | 06/17/14 10:15 AM

The term "rape culture" has been around for about 40 years, and refers to a society where sexual violence, especially against women, may be a normal, even tolerated, behavior.

Fierce debates have been waged over whether such a rape culture exists in the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control reports nearly one in five women have experienced a rape or an attempted rape.

This weekend on Connections, host Renee Shaw explored the issue of sexual violence in our society. Her guests were Mae Suramek, executive director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center in Lexington, and Rus Funk, author and director of the Louisville-based MensWork, Inc., a group that educates and engages men to help end sexual and domestic violence.

Suramek and Funk say that sexual content in movies and TV shows, video games, and pop songs often depict women as being culpable in some way for the sexual violence they experience.

"Women are expected to be in a perpetual state of consent," Suramek explains. "It is your responsibility to make sure you that don't tempt men to become violent towards you." That frequently results in cautionary messages to women not to drink too much or dress provocatively.

At the same time, Funk says the media often gives boys and men the message that they are entitled to sex and that when a woman says "no," she actually means "try again later." His group works to dispel those beliefs and give males a different way to think about physical intimacy.

"Having sex with another person is never a right," Funk says. "It is always a gift."

Preventing Violence Before It Happens
Another facet of Funk's work involves empowering men to challenge offensive or derogatory behavior by other males, such as crude locker room conversation. He says he teaches his clients how to speak up on behalf of women in general, not just a spouse, relative, or close friend. He also encourages men to realize that violence does not have to be a function of masculinity.

At the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center, counselors promote a technique called the "green dot" approach. Suramek describes this as strategies bystanders can use to intervene in a situation that may result in an act of sexual violence. The intervention may be as simple as spilling a drink or causing some other minor distraction at a party that allows the potential victim a chance to get away from the perpetrator.

Watch the full Connections program.